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Overall Rating

Awesome: 20.79%
Worth A Look40.59%
Just Average: 13.86%
Pretty Crappy: 18.81%
Sucks: 5.94%

10 reviews, 41 user ratings

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Constant Gardener, The
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by Rob Gonsalves

"A decent thriller, but not the barnstorming masterwork many said it is."
3 stars

Cynics such as myself may wonder if, when Hollywood gets around to making the big-budget spectacular 'Katrina: The Drowning of a City' or whatever they end up calling it, it will be told not from the point of view of the mostly black refugees trapped in the Astrodome, but through the eyes of white relief workers who nobly enter Hell to save the helpless black victims. Not that white relief workers aren't noble; and not that, say, white activists trying to uncover a conspiracy affecting poverty-stricken Africans wouldn't be noble; but the idea of people of color reduced to being a suffering backdrop in their own story sticks in my craw.

The Constant Gardener is a solidly crafted potboiler with enough feints towards political significance and humanitarian passion to keep an adult audience satisfied after a summer of bleak kiddie bubble gum. For what it is -- a topical thriller that takes on "Big Pharma" (the frequently unethical pharmaceutical business) but nonetheless isn't above spies, a car chase that turns out to be a "just kidding" moment, and shadowy figures beating people up in hotel rooms -- it's a good evening out. It reminded me of The Deep End, another late-summer drama (from 2001) about a bereaved protagonist struggling to make sense of violent loss. That film was good, but not as great as many critics, relieved to be dealing with something halfway mature, seemed to feel it was.

The good news is that Justin Quayle, a proper British diplomat tossed into a grief-driven quest for truth, is right up Ralph Fiennes' alley. His Justin is buttoned down, but not all the way; when he meets Tessa (Rachel Weisz), a fiery activist who flings heated words at him about the war in Iraq, her words unbutton him. They seem to fall into bed, marriage, and pregnancy in record time, though I think the director, Fernando Meirelles (who made the similarly antsy City of God), is telescoping events a bit. Tessa, in fact, exists only in Justin's memory; it's not long into the movie before Justin receives word of her mysterious death beside a desolate African road. In a rare moment of directorial restraint, Meirelles simply holds the camera on Fiennes as Justin numbly registers the news, and Fiennes quietly fills in the rest. Later, back at his home, Justin will burst into tears against a damp window, its condensation dripping down, as if Justin's agony were so great even glass weeps for him.

Justin discovers various things about Tessa, some of which he takes out of context. When he hears bits of conversations that indicate Tessa is having an affair, or isn't satisfied in their marriage, the personal turns out to be political. The Constant Gardener, as written by Jeffrey Caine from a John Le Carré novel, is about how the political and the personal intertwine. Justin finds that Tessa had been involved in uncovering a vast pharmaceutical conspiracy to test new drugs on African patients without their knowledge. (If they refuse the drugs, they are refused medical care.) As much driven to carry on her work as to get to the bottom of what -- and who -- killed her, Justin pokes his nose into a few scary places and gets it punched a few times.

I've seen The Constant Gardener lionized as one of 2005's best movies, or even the best, and individual moments are electrifying. Meirelles has a fluid camera style, subtly suggesting things and trusting us to make connections. But what it adds up to is a good yarn that uses real political concerns to make itself look beefier than the average Hollywood thriller. Some may say it's all for a good cause; more people will respond to the subject if it's cloaked in formula (the Grieving Hero Seeks Justice for His Dead Woman -- in outline it's not much different from Sin City). I'd rather watch a documentary about the same topic than a movie that depends, for its feel-good climax, on a letter that improbably blurts out everything that will incriminate the Bad Guys.

And watching Justin go through his quest, I was reminded of the end of 'Cry Freedom,' in which we held our breaths as Donald Woods tried to get out of South Africa with his book about Stephen Biko. Meanwhile, of course, all those black people kept suffering, but at least the white man triumphed.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=12868&reviewer=416
originally posted: 01/01/07 20:52:03
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User Comments

9/14/17 morris campbell gripping good film 4 stars
3/12/16 roberta wiener compelling, gripping,a smart person's film.. Fiennes" acting is amazing and subtle. 5 stars
4/26/12 tan hongtao a movie about a crasy bitch who lost her mind, 1 stars
3/18/09 Chaka Khan I dont understand the rave about this movie, not believable in any way and brutally boring 2 stars
11/08/08 mr.mike The central mystery isn't all that compelling, Fiennes and a satisfying ending compensate 4 stars
5/20/07 action movie fan BORING STORY COMSTANTLY DULL 1 stars
5/15/07 mb Excellent Movie ... useless ending. 4 stars
5/11/07 R.W. Welch A shade overdone, but still intriguing conspiracy flick. B- 4 stars
3/28/07 fools♫gold been-done-before-and-better "drama/action", like Bulletproof Monk, but more boring. 2 stars
2/10/07 Mystic Dark, brooding and will haunt for along time. The story of our times.... 5 stars
11/13/06 Ryan_A Fiennes is fantastic. 4 stars
11/05/06 zaw WTF! This movie is for people who like to complicate their lives! Real life is not!!! 1 stars
11/01/06 Patsyc A good movie. It has a very good storyline. 4 stars
9/01/06 MP Bartley Angry, and the emotion of it creeps up on you. Fiennes is brilliant. 4 stars
7/31/06 Eden Despite the storyline, its a kinda bland film; completely forgetable 2 stars
5/19/06 Simon Doesn't quite have a knockout punch as a moviegoer would like, but its sincerity is legit 4 stars
5/06/06 daveyt enjoyable, didn't mind the time lapse plot, jerky cinematography and slow pace! 4 stars
4/29/06 millersxing A well-intentioned, overbearing snoozer. 2 stars
4/22/06 Phil M. Aficionado In a few days it will blend into a dozen others I've seen, full of incongruous twists 3 stars
3/11/06 Josh Standlee Fact: Ralph Feinnes is an emotionless android. 2 stars
3/06/06 Annie G Interesting overall, but seriously do people think drug companies have this much power? 4 stars
2/27/06 Serious Critic !0 Osrcar noms but still this is ciold war propaganda 4 stars
2/24/06 Indrid Cold A leisurely-paced thriller with more intimate romantic scenes than actual thrills. 4 stars
2/09/06 helen bradley A story that lingers well after leaving the flick, great acting all round and photograohy 5 stars
1/25/06 john bale Timely and disturbing thriller which must raise concern about the ethics of some Companies. 5 stars
1/21/06 Simon Very-very well done. Well-developed characters, unforced social awareness, smart dialogue 5 stars
1/16/06 Agent Sands Intelligent, well-directed film. 4 stars
1/12/06 middle earth characters with soul, but film event driven, who are these people? 4 stars
12/13/05 What's the matter with you people? What a complete waste of time! Weisz and Fiennes should be shot down for this! 1 stars
10/05/05 Taylor Fladgate Can you say "Oscar!"? This film will get at least 5 nods. 5 stars
9/28/05 Olga Reprintseva awakening and beautiful 4 stars
9/16/05 Suzz excellent performances but just your average thriller otherwise 3 stars
9/15/05 Jake I walked into this film expecting a great movie. An hour later, I walked disappointed. 2 stars
9/12/05 susan great 5 stars
9/07/05 Koitus Didn't care for "out of time" sequencing; many "false" leads provided, too... 2 stars
9/05/05 Ionicera great performances and love story 4 stars
9/04/05 Melina remembering the movie, brings tears to my eyes again - definitely worth seeing! 5 stars
9/04/05 Bob Siesholtz This was a horrible movie. It was slow moving and boring. Drug companies are evil. Thanks 1 stars
8/31/05 B.Blackbrain It was like a documentary by Alfred Hitchcock. Best movie I've seen all year. 5 stars
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  31-Aug-2005 (R)
  DVD: 10-Jan-2006



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